If a person does not have a will or has not adequately planned for the distribution of his or her estate at death, survivors may face a complicated, time-consuming, and costly process. Often survivors wind up having to pay more taxes on their inheritance than they would have paid had there been a will or other estate planning tool. To provide for surviving friends and relatives, or to support favorite causes or charities, a person should plan for the distribution of his or her estate after death. With planning, an estate can be distributed as fairly as possible with as little tax burden as legally allowed.

When a decedent leaves no will or other comparable estate planning tool, he or she is said to have died intestate. Jurisdiction over wills and trusts is in the superior court sitting in probate. When a person dies intestate, the probate court steps in to divide the decedent’s estate, according to a formula provided by the state inheritance laws. Under the state inheritance laws, the probate court uses formulas set by the legislature to divide a deceased person’s possessions among any surviving relatives.

A will allows you, instead of state law, to decide who will receive your assets after you die.


Image courtesy of Hector Alejandro /